Mental health and technology
Mental health and technology

So last week was about social media and its impact. Today I’d like to explore technology and how it’s impacting on mental health in general. Let’s take a look:

What’s happening that’s good:

There’s an argument to suggest that technology is vastly improving access to mental health service users such as Apps, improved email and chat facilities to speak with GPs, charities and mental health professionals. It no longer needs to be face to face if that’s not suitable for you. Examples of this are Headspace and Insight Timer; they are great for recharging, meditating and challenging your negative thoughts. Apps are free or require a minimal subscription- this opens it up to all kinds of users without the need for a waiting list.

Sending a simple text message can put you in touch with the care that you need; this is a tremendous development when you consider the difficulties mental health had say even 10 years ago, though access remains an issue it is certainly improving.

It’s convenient to access a website, press an App, or send a text or talk 24/7 on a helpline.

It encourages autonomy and responsibility for the user, for example: if you feel low today but it’s another week until your GP appointment to discuss a referral- you can do something about it now and learn how to self-care in the meantime.

Technology can be used complimentary in-line with other forms of treatment such as using a meditation app daily, alongside weekly face to face counselling and accessing a helpline between sessions; it no longer needs to be a case of waiting until your next session if you do have a counsellor in place.

Mental Health Today has a fascinating article charting more debates and developments for those of you that are interested visit:

This sounds perfect: great strides being made, smaller charges, equality is service provision, efficient and 24-hour access…where’s the downside?

What’s not so good:

GDPR/data protection keeps rearing its head- how are the Apps and services storing your data and do you agree with their policies? It’s really important to read their privacy policies BEFORE you hand over your data to them- make sure it’s a reputable company endorsed by reputable mental health charities/ organisations/ professionals. If your unsure ask your GP.

Tracking your progress on Apps may really help some people to see differences and to check-in on bad days with what the reason a dip in mood (for instance) may be related to, or if you’ve had a few down days in a row. Depending on your mental health concern the process of being tracked could contribute to your symptoms- choose an App or system that’s right for your concern and experiences- it’s important to feel comfortable with what you chose.

Some people aren’t technologically minded- the thought of downloading, logging-in and using chat-based therapies on-line might be overwhelming to some people- excluding them from the advances going on in the world; remember this when advocating anything web-based or digital. If you are tech-savvy and can assist someone who isn’t knowledgeable then that can be a rewarding experience for you both.

If you aren’t sure where to start and feel overwhelmed by enticing language and feel ‘sold-to’ by companies you’ve never heard of, all promising improved mental health, then do a little research before signing up. It’s better to make an informed decision than a snap decision when you aren’t feeling 100% like yourself.

Whilst these digital alternatives and applications can be very useful, they are usually a standardised approach- it’s not always tailored to individual concerns.

I highlighted last week that there are issues with being overly connected to the digital world. If you find yourself experiencing some of the symptoms that I listed on that blog then I would urge you to take some of the steps I mentioned back then in combating them. Once you’ve found your ‘online balance’ then consider if you can use technology in a better way, to assist your mental health rather than it continuing to take a toll on you. termed it as us living ‘hyperconnected lives.’ Liz Soltan authored a nice piece on exactly what I’m discussing here:

‘There is no denying that technology is affecting the way our minds operate. It remains to be seen exactly how technology will affect our psyches, but some changes are already starting to become apparent.’

The warning here is our checking behaviours for texts messages, notifications, emails etc. is all impacting on our daily lives in many subtle and not so subtle ways. Be mindful how you are using the technology in your hands and what impact it is having on your behaviour- weigh up your own advantages and disadvantages list and really think about it:

  • Can you use technology in a smarter way so it helps your mental health rather than it contributing to your problems?
  • If you have the skills can you help someone else access an App or update one for them if they are struggling?
  • Can you yourself access an App or email service and see which ones work for you if your struggling on a waiting list with a mental health provider?
  • Pick what is right for you

In a world that’s always trying to be smarter, follow suit and be smart in how you use your technology.

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